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Scrapbooking with Farmers

Engaging B2B Study Participants

I’ll be the first to admit that business-to-business research is hard. Finding and scheduling study participants is always a challenge. Engaging them is even tougher.

Building a dialogue around brand perceptions and unmet needs is always challenging, but it is particularly acute in professional markets. Business-to-business participants are prone to only focus on product features. Good research requires a deeper dive.

We recently completed a project with farmers about suppliers of a particular production input. Farmers are not the most loquacious bunch and, as a rule of thumb, are very modest. Longstanding relationships with suppliers are common. Because of this, verbalizing perceptions, opinions, and needs can be difficult.

For this assignment, our client needed for us to dig deep. Real deep. We asked these farmers to help us create a scrapbook (of sorts) about their perceptions and beliefs around three suppliers. While we were initially reticent, the exercise worked great. Really great. (We even got a note back from one of our participants thanking us for the opportunity to participate in such an interesting assignment!).

The approach was fairly straightforward and easy to execute. I highly recommend it for your next business-to-business assignment.

After scheduling our study participants, we mailed them a picture book. We arranged the booklet in PowerPoint and included about 75 pictures found online. Half of the pictures were ordinary items– a truck, a flag, an apple pie, and so on. The remaining pictures were symbolic, provocative, or had heavy context.  Study participants were asked to review the booklet and circle pictures that represented how they felt about three different suppliers.

Later, we connected by phone and they walked us through their scrapbook. Our interviewers probed on the reasons behind their selections. There is a lot of wisdom in the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  We were able to uncover deep insights about brands, products, marketing approaches, quality of sales rep relationships, and unmet needs.

The lesson here is that we don’t have to default to such formal methods in business-to-business research.  Some adults have difficulty articulating what we really need to hear and need an assist.  Others need time to think through the assignment before talking about it. Most are willing to help with studies if you make it convenient. In this age of information overload and time starvation, adding a dose of fun and engagement goes a long way.

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